Google changed the meaning of "beta software" by launching applications in early stages and forgetting to remove the word "beta" even after years of testing. Gmail has been launched in April 2004 and it's still in beta after more than 7 years of development.
New York Times reports that Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk are coming out of beta today. Google hopes to convince businesses that the applications are good enough to be used in a corporate environment. "For business customers, it is an important sign in terms of the maturity of our product offering and commitment to this business. I've had C.I.O.s tell me that they would not consider a product labeled beta," explained a Google employee.
What's in a name? Apparently, not much, since Gmail's perpetual beta only meant that there are still significant features that need to be added. "We have very, very high standards for the product, as we do for all Google products. But we are not ready to come out of beta yet. There are a few things that we're working on, and once we meet a couple more of those criteria, we would love to come out of beta," said Gmail's Product Manager Todd Jackson in March.
Making labels more familiar was probably one of the things that had to be changed before Gmail could finally be good enough to drop the "beta" tag. Keith Coleman, Gmail Product Director, has a longer list of features that had to be added: integrated chat, mobile versions, open protocols, better anti-spam technology, a more flexible architecture.
"Some people think we should wait until we launch < one of ongoing secret projects >. Others say that, over the last five years, a beta culture has grown around web apps, such that the very meaning of "beta" is debatable. And rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we're moving to a world of rapid developmental cycles where products like Gmail continue to change indefinitely."
Update: If you think there's something missing from Gmail's logo, enable the "Back to Beta" feature from Gmail Labs to bring back the familiar logo. It's that easy to pretend that nothing happened.